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How much does being an artist in London suck?

The average artist in the UK earns just £10,000 a year. So Eddy Frankel spoke to some established artists to find out how they manage to survive in London in 2016. 

Photo: Scott Chasserot



Sophie Michael Video and photographic artist who currently has a show at Tate Britain  

‘I live and work in a house in South Woodford with my boyfriend Andrew Munks, who’s also an artist. We couldn’t afford separate studios and rent, so we looked for place together and luckily found this house. It was in such a bad state that they couldn’t rent it, so we said okay, lower the rent and we’ll do it up. We ripped up all the carpets because they were infested with all kinds of things and the walls were smoke stained. Every year it’s nailbiting when we have to renew our contract: we’re screwed if they kick us out because we’re so reliant on it. We’d never find anywhere with this amount of space. We’d have to move out of London. I show my work with a really good gallery and I’ve got an exhibition at Tate Britain, but I still have to do other jobs. I work for a small 16mm film hire business, and I’ve just finished doing a year of children’s art workshops, so I’m on the hunt for a new job. I can’t imagine a time when I’ll be solely living off my work. 

It’s what artists talk about all the time. Perhaps even more than they talk about art, they talk about how they’re going to pay next month’s rent, where they’ll to move to if they get thrown out. People get so exhausted by the situation that they lose the will and the energy to make art.

It’s especially hard to make art in London at this particular point in time. I’d love to leave so I didn’t have to worry about this every day. But if you move out of London it’s very difficult to make people remember that you exist, and artists rely on having each other around for support. 

Making art in London just isn’t sustainable right now. I have friends who are in their forties and fifties who are in exactly the same position: still struggling to pay rates, still juggling a million jobs on top of their practice. Maybe the problem isn’t generational, or how long you’ve been at it; maybe the problem is London.’

Sophie’s ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ is at Tate Britain until Oct 30. Her collaborative show with Andrew Munks opens at Coleman Project Space on Sep 23.



Photo: Scott Chasserot






Adham Faramawy Video, installation, performance and digital artist 

‘It wasn’t until my very late twenties that I could stop working subsidiary jobs to support my art. I broke lot of laws in my mid-twenties. Straight out of college I started a collective and we squatted buildings in Peckham. We found a way to consolidate the support networks that we’d developed while studying so we could carry on making work without getting crummy jobs.

Then, the only way I could afford to live was because I was assisting an incredible sculptor called Anya Gallacio, and she and her wife Kelly let me move into their house, so I was able to afford to stay in the city while keeping a very small studio. What happens when people like her leave? There’s no one here to nurture the next generation.

It’s a challenge to be an artist in London, for sure. It’s clear within my network of friends that a great number of artists have left the city. It’s terrifying! If they go, who’s there to help each other?

But you have to be close to the systems and institutions that fund you. Proximity to the capital is necessary. I’m a Londoner, and I still love this city, I still feel part of it, but I am really aware that I’m being pushed out, and there’s very little I can do about it. There’s a great deal of creativity happening in London: isn’t that what people come here for?’

Adham has a major upcoming show at Liverpool’s Bluecoat opening on Oct 28 and a billboard on Brick Lane, right next to Taj Stores.


Photo: Scott Chasserot


Thomson and Craighead Pioneering, techonology-obsessed duo who both teach at art schools 

‘In the end, you make your own career. When we left art school in the ’90s, selling art wasn’t even in our minds. 

In the early days we’d apply to get money to make new work through the Arts Council or open submission exhibitions . There were lots of knock backs, one in ten was a good hit rate. These days we’re lucky enough that people commission us, but that’s come through being around for a long time!

We teach at art schools – the Slade and Goldsmiths – and that provides a basic income. It means we never we have to compromise to make money. For students graduating now, it’s way harder. Structural things in our country have changed: housing benefit, self-employment, student debt. Public arts funding is diminishing year-on-year too.

If you do a degree now it’s easy to come out with close to £80,000 of debt. Artists now can only make the work they want to make if they have enough money. So there’s a much narrower group of people who are able to make art. We’re not bashing people, we just think everyone should have an equal chance. 

So many more students now are seeking help for their anxiety: they just get stressed out by debt and financial pressure. UK universities don’t yet have much in the way of endowments or scholarships like those in America, we just have the fees. To see all possible means of support vanishing impoverishes our culture and society. It impoverishes the whole city, really.’

Thomson and Craighead are represented by Carroll/Fletcher and have a solo show at Young Projects in Los Angeles next January.



Rich S

I dont get this obsession with living in london during an electronic digital age. I work as an artist on the south coast and i have found so much more fulfilling than living in london which of course brings clarity to make the art you want. London is a myth and a disease. To believe that to be successful you must live in london is so narrow that it feels almost the opposite of creative thought. I coach artists of all kinds if people are needing help.

Fraser C

I scraped by in the arts for 10 years - even with gallery shows and commissions it is tough.

The last straw for me was working on a very high profile event for the arts council - seeing all the artists and technicians working for free - whilst the great and good of the AC had a gratis 5 course slap up meal and free bar. 

Now I work in the tech industry and pay more than 10k pa into my pension - I still paint and love the arts - but only a fool would try to make a living out of it.

Callum F

Many artists & art students rely on wealthy parents -- it's a lot easier to be a starving artist if you've a comfortable safety net to fall back on. This tends to distort many branches of the creative arts, it's quite noticeable in things like fashion and acting. It's been an issue for a while, it was apparent when I was at uni in the 90s (q.v. "Common People"), and has been reinforced over the last two decades. Those that lack independent income are having to compete in a market that's increasingly distorted by those who do.

Nick G

I feel really sorry to read how awful the average wage is. It must mean that there are some people trying to survive on even less! Impossible.

I note that one commenter has talked about getting a "proper job" and "little value" but this completely misses the point. Art and culture enrich our lives. The entertainment and enjoyment we get out of the arts is truly valuable, whereas yet more corporate lawyers, bankers, accountants and other service economy drones and office workers add nothing to the real economy or human experience.

I want to see more painters, sculpters, poets, musicians, videographers and creative people doing what they love and bringing entertainment and challenging perceptions through whatever medium they have chosen. It's such a shame that society doesn't value them, because people think that it's a "hobby" when in actual fact it's a vocation and takes huge dedication and talent.

Maybe we should all help multinational corporations avoid taxes, or take callcentre telephone calls as our hobby, so that we can allow more artists to live and pay the bills.

Bob D

But unfortunately you can't just decide to become an artist; you also need to have talent. If people aren't prepared to pay for your work then maybe that's what you're lacking. It's like me deciding I'm going to be a singer when I can't sing and then moaning when nobody is prepared to pay to listen to me sing.

Dan H

@Bob D IF you are referring to the artists in the article above, please note that these artists are all recognised in their respective fields. The first lady is exhibiting at the Tate.

Bob D

Have you thought about getting a job like the rest of us and keeping your art as a hobby? The reality is there is little value in what you are producing so how do you expect to make much of a living from it?

Lex M

@Bob D You only live once.  Might as well try and make yourself happy.

Dan H

@Chris M @Bob D Of course he would! Bobby McD clearly thinks that the tally of zeros on a pay cheque equates to value in society and culture. People like Bob have exisited since day 1, and art, in all its forms, has found a way to exist and grow and continue to influence outside of any formal reward system. Look at Graffiti for example - from its origins under railway bridges to what an integral part of art, design, music and culture it is now. What do you reckon Bob thinks about that? Bob - if you're reading, please don't answer. We already know. 

Bob D

Oh come on Danny boy. Don't be like that. You've completely misunderstood me. Believe it or not, I appreciate and enjoy good art. All I'm saying is that if you're unable to make a satisfactory living from your art alone then you have to accept you need to do something in addition to it until you are. Stop moaning about how hard done by you are and how society doesn't value you. It's called being sensible and realistic. Or do you think that because someone has stated that they wish to be an artist that society should make it happen irrespective of how practical that may be?

Chris M

@Bob D Pretty sure they are aware that there isn't much monetary value in what they do. And they do do other jobs. But I'll put it to you this way - lots of writers also teach writing in universities. Would you *dream* of telling a writer that that is, or should be, their hobby? 

Jonathan S

@Bob D you did read the article right? they all have jobs. They have jobs so that they may support their art. Most people get jobs so that they can support children, family, spouse, drug habit or holidays in the Bahamas. An artist wants all these things as well, but cannot afford them because he actually knowingly sacrifices things for art. Of course this is also because most artists are terrible narcissists, but such a condition is inevitable when this affliction/ vocation is part of your life. Don't judge people who make life choices other than yours, believe me they are not easy.